Do I have to use gluten-free skincare and body products?

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: Do I have to use gluten-free skincare products?

Answer


This is the most frequently asked question that we get for “Ask the Dietitian.”

In terms of skincare, it is optional but not required to use gluten-free skincare/cosmetics for those with celiac disease, as gluten cannot penetrate the skin.

We recommend skincare products to be gluten-free if there is a potential that they might be ingested, or if you have allergic skin reactions to gluten. 

A potential issue would be accidentally ingesting skincare/cosmetics through cross-contact such as touching foods or putting your fingers in your mouth after using a product, or ingesting products that go near your mouth. However, it is probably a far stretch that you would ingest enough gluten this way. But this could be an issue with children. A good rule to follow is to always wash your hands before eating.

There are often questions and concerns regarding lipsticks and lip balms. In a study by Tricia Thompson, MS, RDN, a number of lipsticks and lip balms with gluten-derived ingredients were tested and found to contain below quantifiable levels of gluten. It was determined that it would be unlikely that lipsticks would contribute significant amounts of gluten to the diet, even if they contained higher levels. (1) However, more research needs to be done on this topic.

Here is what leading celiac disease specialist Alessio Fasano, MD, says about skincare and celiac disease:

“There is currently no scientific evidence that gluten used in cosmetics that are not ingested is harmful to individuals with celiac disease, including those with dermatitis herpetiformis (the skin form of celiac disease). If you have celiac disease, then the application of gluten-containing products to the skin should not be a problem, unless you have skin lesions that allow gluten to be absorbed systemically in great quantities. The reason why this should not be a problem is that, based on what we know right now, it is the oral ingestion of gluten that activates the immunological cascades leading to the autoimmune process typical of celiac disease.” (1)

Important Notes:

For young children that might suck on their hands as well as drink the bathwater, I would recommend using gluten-free soaps, shampoo and lotion/sunscreen.

People with wheat allergies often have to completely avoid skincare products with gluten/wheat.

A small number of people with celiac disease have reported problems with rashes after applying gluten-containing skincare products. Interestingly, a small Italian study showed that some patients with celiac disease had cutaneous hypersensitivity to gluten, and the rashes were resolved when the gluten-containing products were stopped. (2) More research needs to be done on this topic. If you have reactions to gluten-containing skincare, then discontinue the product and choose gluten-free skincare. However, from what we currently know from research available, it is not something that most people with celiac disease have to be concerned with.

Ingredients to watch out for if you prefer/need gluten-free skincare/cosmetics:

Wheat/Triticum vulgare (Latin name)

Wheat amino acids

Wheat bran

Wheat germ/wheat germ extract

Barley/ Hordeum vulgare (Latin name)

Barley extract

Malt, malt extract

Rye/ Secale cereale (Latin name)

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein or vegetable protein

Hydrolyzed wheat protein or wheat protein

Avena sativa/oat*

Oat kernel flour*

*(Oats are naturally gluten-free, but most commercial sources of oats are heavily contaminated with gluten)

Notes about labeling for skincare and cosmetics:

The product ingredients can be listed on the product itself, the packaging, an insert, an affixed tag, tape or card.

The ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance.

Ingredients do not have to be listed by their common names - wheat, barley, rye and oats are often listed by their Latin names (Triticum vulgare, hordeum vulgare, Secale cereale, Avena sativa.) (3)

If the product ingredient label cannot be located, then I recommend contacting the manufacturer directly and ask about the ingredients. Read more about product research and how to contact manufacturers here

Keep in mind that skincare and cosmetics are not covered under FDA’s gluten-free labeling rule. But some do label their products, as well as certify them gluten-free.

Skincare and cosmetics are not subject Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Act (FALCPA) and are not required to list the 8 allergens (Cow’s milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy). (4)

Read previous answers about gluten and skincare products here:

https://nationalceliac.org/celiac-disease-questions/looking-for-gf-toiletries/

https://nationalceliac.org/celiac-disease-questions/using-gluten-free-skin-body-products-someone-celiac-disease/

 References:

  1. Thompson T, Grace T. Gluten in cosmetics: is there a reason for concern? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Sep;112(9):1316-23.
  2. Tammaro A, Narcisi A, De Marco G, Persechino S. Cutaneous hypersensitivity to gluten. Dermatitis. 2012 Sep-Oct;23(5):220-1. doi: 10.1097/DER.0b013e318262ca9b. PMID: 23010829.
  3. Food and Drug Administation (FDA). Summary of Cosmetics Labeling Requirements. FDA Website: https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-labeling-regulations/summary-cosmetics-labeling-requirements
  4. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Act of 2004 Questions and Answers. FDA Website: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-allergensgluten-free-guidance-documents-regulatory-information/food-allergen-labeling-and-consumer-protection-act-2004-questions-and-answers

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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